Throwing In the Towel

We are two days away from both a new year and a new decade.

Each of us has goals, plans and dreams – and at the same time there’s so much to do, so many constant challenges, so many things that need time and effort and energy that it’s often all we can do just to keep going without quitting.

But as we prepare ourselves for this new year and new decade I have one question to ask you:

Have you considered that giving up might be your best option?

Now, for many of you this idea is going to stick in your craw. Your Momma didn’t raise no quitter. Only weak men give up. You’re not the kind of man to be throwing in the towel.

But before you judge me too harshly, I’d like to tell you a story from one of my favorite movies – the glorious, communism-crushing Rocky IV!

The Biggest Failure of Rocky’s Life

At the beginning of Rocky IV, everything is great. Over the last three movies Rocky’s nemesis Apollo Creed has become his friend, Creed has trained Rocky and helped him defeat Clubber Lang, and The Italian Stallion is once again the World Champion.

Now out of Soviet Russia comes a giant named Ivan Drago. Trained using Soviet technology, computers and powerful steroids, this massive boxer seems more like a robot than a human. The Russian team, convinced of Drago’s superior skills, openly mocks America. Rocky has already learned he doesn’t need to prove himself and declines. Apollo Creed, however, hasn’t learned this lesson yet. Even though Apollo is getting older and hasn’t fought professionally in years, he accepts an exhibition match with the powerful Drago. Then, knowing he will need help in his corner, Apollo convinces Rocky to be his coach.

The day of the fight, Rocky sees Drago up close and realizes Apollo has vastly underestimated his opponent. Rocky tells Apollo that the Soviet man is too powerful and that they should give up. Creed ignores Rocky’s advice and starts the fight. Drago quickly brutalizes Apollo and in seconds the older man is bloody and hurting badly. Rocky begs his friend to let him give up. “No!” Creed yells. “You don’t stop this fight, no matter what. No matter what.” 

As blows rain down on Apollo Creed, his wife, their other trainer and everyone in the ring is screaming “THROW IN THE TOWEL.” Rocky does pick up the towel… but he doesn’t throw it. Even though his friend is being pulverized, Rocky honors Apollo’s request and does not stop the fight. Then, in stunned horror, he watches Drago hit the weakened Apollo Creed so hard that it kills him. 

Rocky could have given up. He could have ignored Creed’s ego and desperation and done what he knew he should have done. But he didn’t. 

Throwing In the Towel 1

Mistakes Were Made

Okay, okay, I will admit this story is way Over the Top (btw, another great Stallone flick) but there’s actually a lot of truth to what happened in this ring. We can learn quite a bit from this fictional fight. These are six critical mistakes that were made.

  1. Apollo wasn’t prepared. He went up against a situation that he wasn’t ready to handle. He didn’t do his research.
  2. Apollo refused to admit he wasn’t good enough. By the second round he knew he had made a mistake but his ego wouldn’t let him admit it. 
  3. Apollo hired a morally weak coach. Rocky didn’t have the strength of character to do what was right, even though he might lose his friendship with Apollo.
  4. Rocky wasn’t thinking about the future. Rocky got sucked up into the drama of what was happening in the moment – the excitement, the confusion, his friend’s desperation to prove himself – and stopped thinking about what would happen in the future – the high chance of serious injury to Apollo.
  5. Apollo did not give up. Even though he had no chance of winning and every second caused more pain and injury, he kept going until he was destroyed.
  6. Rocky did not throw in the towel. Unlike the punch-drunk Apollo, Rocky retained his objectivity throughout the fight. He could have stopped it at any time. He had the power to surrender and then help Apollo come back stronger later. But he failed to use that power and his friend paid the price. 

Seeing the Battleground Clearly

“Is this the hill you’re willing to die on?” 

For thousands of years this powerful question has forced soldiers to compare the value of men’s lives to the value of accomplishing an objective. In war, answering this question requires true wisdom because sometimes many men will sacrifice their lives during the battle for that hill.

In peacetime, the question becomes metaphorical but more practical because the truth is that we’re often fighting many small battles at the same time. For example, Your boss decided for the first time to cut Christmas bonuses plus The ex-wife just gave you papers asking for more child-support plus Your friend is cheating on his girlfriend and wants you to cover for him plus The insurance company is denying your claim for the flooded basement plus Your youngest kid is acting out in school…and now you’ve made a New Years Resolution to lose 50 lbs this year.

Taken individually, you could fight every one of these battles and win. You might even be able to deal with two or even three simultaneously. But when you have to fight all of these small battles and put bread on the table and take care of your wife and kids and keep up with your regular responsibilities and also try and lose weight, guess what?

You’re going to fail.

There are times in our lives when accomplishing a certain goal is impossible. Because of our current circumstances we lack the strength, the skill, the resources, the energy or the support we need to win. 

Then, to add insult to injury, if we can’t admit out loud that we’re in a losing battle, it’s only going to get worse. Our suffering increases, our productivity tanks and soon we’re headed for disaster.  Just like Apollo Creed against Ivan Drago, it’s simply a matter of time until we’re going down.

But the good news is that failing (temporary) doesn’t mean you’re a failure (permanent) and giving up right now (temporary) doesn’t mean giving in (permanent). 

Remember, success is a long war, not a single battle. 

The Long Game

What should we do if we’re currently up against an opponent or a situation that is bigger and stronger than we are? Steve Kerr, the head coach of the Golden State Warriors, has some great advice on the subject.

In 2017 and 2018, under Kerr’s leadership the Warriors had won back-to-back NBA Championships and were on their way to a threepeat in 2019. Then tragedy struck. Kevin Durant suffered a calf strain that kept him out of most of the playoffs, and, when he finally returned to the Finals in Game 5, tore his achilles tendon. The loss of Durant was devastating to the Warriors but when Klay Thompson tore his ACL – another season-ending injury – the Warriors were finished. They lost the finals 4-2 to the Toronto Raptors.

The 2019-2020 season has been even more painful. During the offseason Durant left the Warriors. Durant’s skill and speed was instrumental in making Golden State a championship team and his absence has left a huge hole no one can fill. Klay Thompson, their second-best shooter and 2019 NBA All-Defensive Team member is still injured and unable to play. And now Steph Curry, two time league MVP and the team leader, has a broken hand and remains on the bench for the foreseeable future.

Last year at this point the Warriors record was 21 wins and 13 losses (and following that they won the next 12 out of 13 games). This year the Warriors current record is 9 wins and 25 losses – the worst in the Western Conference – and they’re not likely to turn things around any time soon.

Under the circumstances you wouldn’t think Coach Kerr would be optimistic – much less excited – but he actually is. In a recent interview with he admitted “I’m actually really enjoying this season….[Next year] we’ll have a very different team. We won’t have the same group that was in The Finals last year. We lost a lot from that group. But the whole point this year is ‘let’s get healthy…fortify our roster and develop some players who can be a big part of our future, bring back our regular guys and make a run at it again.’ It’s exciting.”

This is how champions deal with failure. They throw in the towel when they know they can’t win. They accept the circumstances, admit defeat, regroup, rebuild and prepare to come back stronger than ever.

Watch the Warriors closely in the 2020-2021 season. With the talent they have, the offseason moves they’ve made and with Kerr at the helm, they’re the odds-on favorite to win the championship once again.

Giving Up and Getting Ready

As we begin this new year, I want you to think differently about the goals you want to accomplish. Instead of starting 2020 by ADDING something new goals to your life, try SUBTRACTING.

Now’s the time to make a list of the battles you’re fighting. Tally up the challenges you are struggling with right now. Once you’ve done that, make another list of the goals you’re currently tackling. These are the challenges you really want to achieve. Then, when you’re ready, go back through your two lists and ask yourself “which of these battles are NECESSARY, which are OPTIONAL and which of them is a WASTE OF TIME.”

For the new year, continue investing time on the goals you MUST work on (financial obligations, relationships, required daily and weekly tasks, etc) and then consider eliminating ALL your other goals. Cut the dead weight. Trim all the extra branches. Remove what no longer serves you. 

Take a deep breath, humble yourself and make the courageous choice to admit defeat.

  • Sell your project car that has been sitting in your garage – untouched – for a half decade.  
  • Stop gambling (and losing) every weekend.
  • Bite the bullet and hire a contractor to complete the living room remodel.
  • Take that novel you’ve been tinkering with for years and put it upstairs in your trunk.
  • End that relationship that has been dragging you down for too long.
  • Get rid of all the projects that you’ve been investing your time, energy and money in and aren’t seeing results.

Then, once you have a nice fertile ground with no weeds in it, find the one project that REALLY matters to you and then invest yourself FULLY into that ONE goal.

The Russian Winter

After the death of Apollo Creed, Rocky knew what he had to do. He had to get strong. Stronger than he ever had before. Not just physically but mentally and spiritually as well. He wanted to beat Drago but he wanted to do it for the right reasons. If Rocky was going to win, it had to be greater than simple selfish revenge. As they saying goes, “before you start your journey of revenge, first dig two graves.” Rocky needed to show Drago and the people of Russia that true victory means more than simply beating another man into submission. It’s about respect, honor and the ability to be the bigger man.

As Gary Keller says in his excellent book ‘The ONE Thing’: “Extraordinary results are directly determined by how narrow you can make your focus … when you spread yourself out, you end up spread thin.”

To accomplish this personal transformation, Rocky had to clear the playing field. He needed to remove the outer obstacles, dig in and narrow his vision until all he could see was that single goal. He decided the best way to do this was to move to the mountains of Russia in the middle of winter. It was here, in sub zero temperatures, without the confusion and chaos of the outside world, with everything else stripped away, that he could channel the necessary energy to fight the battle to come. 

This is our lesson for 2020. This is our example.

Throwing In The Towel

Do you finally want to lose that weight for good? Do you need to get off the couch and get in shape? Is it time to stop smoking or get rid of porn or turn off the television or cut up your credit cards

Are you ready to make a real change? Then make the choice. Admit defeat. Cut your losses. Stop trying to fight a losing battle.

Throw in the towel.

Then go into the pain cave and start doing that work. Get strong. Make allies. Learn. Grow. Become the man you need to be. 

This is how Rocky Balboa finally overcomes the giant Ivan Drago and teaches a lesson to the Soviet Union – and this is how you will win your war.

Are you ready to get started? Good. Because 2020 is going to be your best year ever!

Get Some ~ and Stay Superior!

Photo by Pablo Rebolledo on Unsplash

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Jathan is passionate about helping create a community of great men. He enjoys beautiful women, altered states and Monty Python jokes. He lives in San Diego with two cats and a lot of books. Email him anytime at

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